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Beer and Brewing Charts

2011 December 29
by Mad Alchemist

Who doesn’t like charts? I decided to dig around for a while to see if anyone had made charts based on beer style guidelines and, if I couldn’t find anyway, I was going to make some myself. Well, someone else did it for me! Over at Lug Wrench Brewing, they created a series of charts about bitterness, alcohol, yeast, etc. A lot of useful stuff over there.

Perhaps my favorite one is the IBU to OG ratio chart, since I use the same information to balance my beers and this is a nice visual representation. Another chart I often look at is John Palmer’s age-old style spectrum, which compares malty vs. fruity and bitter vs. sweet in one chart. Another cool one is a motion chart of various BJCP guidelines made by the guy.

I might still make some sweet charts. If so, you’ll know.

Pintley: Beer Recommendation Site/App

2011 December 29
by Mad Alchemist

I recently found a website/smartphone app called Pintley. Essentially, you rate beers you’ve had and it gives you recommendations based on your taste. It’s a great idea and the site is very well-executed, so I’m very hopeful that it’ll catch on and I’ll start discovering new beers through the tool. Sign up for Pintley!

2011 Brewers Association Style Guidelines

2011 December 28
by Mad Alchemist

The 2011 Brewers Association Style Guidelines are available. I like to reference both the BA style guidelines and BJCP guidelines, then break the rules when I feel like it’s necessary to do so to hit the flavor I’m looking for.

Brew Masters

2011 January 21
by Mad Alchemist

A Discovery series I’ve fallen in love with: Brew Masters. From the Discovery website:

Sam Calagione, craft beer maestro and founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, and his partners in suds travel the world searching for exotic ingredients and discovering ancient techniques to produce beers of astounding originality.

While pompous beer geeks think he’s selling out (by the way, get over yourselves), this is a very interesting and entertaining series that will hopefully bring more attention the the craft, micro, and homebrewing scenes. I have my fingers crossed that the series will be successful and will continue to air.

Homebrew Stack Exchange

2011 January 21
by Mad Alchemist

A very nice website for getting homebrew questions answered quickly and knowledgeably is Homebrew Stack Exchange. You’ll frequently see some real names in the Homebrewing scene pop up there answering questions. Then there are random folk like me who know enough to pass along some advice and are willing to do so. Check out the site if you have any questions related to homebrewing you want answered.

Mashing the Perfect Sweet Stout

2010 April 15
tags: ,
by Mad Alchemist

Creating the perfect water profile and mash for a sweet stout is an exercise in contradiction. You want the beer to be very dark, sweet, malty, and full-bodied. It should have some roasted and toasty notes without astringency. To me, that translates to the following information concerning the mash and water profile: Keep the pH of the mash fairly high, around 5.6 (at room temperature). Keep the Chloride to Sulfate ratio high, around 3 to 1. Ensure Chloride and Sodium are both above 100, but below 150. Keep the temperature of the mash up around 158°F. It also means a thicker mash of around 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain.

Where does the contradiction come in? Mostly with the grain bill. You’re looking at 10-15% of your grist being dark, roasted malt, which will drive the pH of the mash down significantly. It’s quite difficult to get a pH of more than 5.2-5.3 (at room temperature) without ending up with too much of something in the final beer (like sodium or bicarbonates). The reason I want to keep the pH up in the 5.4-5.6 range is because I use diastatically weak base malts for sweet stouts (like Munich or Maris Otter), and it’s better for enzymatic activity in that range. It’s also theoretically going to favor alpha amylase in this higher range, while beta amylase is favored a bit lower. Favoring alpha amylase is the same reason I keep the mash temperature up high at around 158°F.

The higher the Chloride to Sulfate ratio, the more malty the final beer is going to be. You need about 100ppm of Chloride before it has significant impact, and the same generally goes for Sodium (which rounds out the beer at that level, and I find that desirable in a sweet stout). You also, of course, need at least 50ppm of Calcium. The problem with the Calcium is that it lowers pH, but you really don’t want too much Bicarbonate in beer (some people believe it creates undesirable flavors, even though a lot of it will precipitate out, so I err on the side of caution here).

Okay, I think that’s enough of the reasoning behind the numbers I aim for with a sweet stout. On to the solution(s).

The first solution I came up with was to only worry about pH during the mash, and add all of the other minerals to the water after the mash. So, I’d add Sodium Bicarbonate and/or Calcium Carbonate during the mash to raise pH, then Calcium Chloride and Magnesium (or Calcium) Sulfate after the mash. Truthfully, this seemed to work out pretty well (and A.J. deLange corroborated), but I believe there is a better, and easier, way.

Don’t mash your roasted-and-kilned grains (e.g. chocolate and black malts). Roasted grains will drive the pH down considerably, so it’s difficult to keep the pH high no matter what fancy solution you use during the mash. Roasted grains have the wonderful benefit of not needing to be mashed. So, the best solution, in my opinion, is to mash everything except for your roasted grains in your MLT, and steep your roasted grains in a separate vessel (below 170 F) simultaneously at around 2 quarts per pound. Then, combine the wort created by the roasted grains with the mashed wort in the brew kettle.

If you don’t want to steep the grains, you can essentially brew a coffee with the dark grains with either a more traditional method (heat) or you can cold brew it overnight to really avoid the astringency as much as possible… it’ll just take longer. If you cold brew, you should probably bring the temperature of the concoction to 170 F after removing the grain to pasteurize it.

Then, you can add the coffee-like brew whenever you want (start of the boil, end of the boil, directly in the fermentation vessel, even just before bottling). All will impart different character, so experiment!

Note that you might not get full extraction from all roasted grains when steeping. According to some experiments run by John Palmer, it looks like Black Patent and Roasted Barley are some of the only roasted malts that have the same yield as mashing when steeped. As such, you might only exclude those from your sweet stout mash, or you can increase the amount of other grains accordingly (e.g. multiply the ounces of Chocolate Malt you use by ~1.5-1.6 to make up for the difference).

I would not recommend sparging with the roasted wort, in part because you’re going to impact the sparge pH pretty significantly, and in part because you’re going to leave some of your flavors behind.

Hitting the ideal concentrations of all ions in the brewing water as well as the ideal pH is very easy when you leave out your roasted malts (and any other malts that don’t need to be mashed, such as caramel/crystal). By steeping the roasted malts (and, optionally, your crystal malts) separate from the mash, you might end up with a much better sweet stout in the end. As someone commented, you could also steep the grains in a bag while you transfer to the boil kettle from your MLT, which sounds like a great idea.

Samuel Adams Boston Ale Clone

2010 April 3
by Mad Alchemist

I attempted to pay homage to Sam Adams Boston Ale recently by brewing what I called New England Stock Ale. It tastes great with all the adjustments I had to make, and I’m taking it in my own direction from here on. That said, it was close enough to Boston Ale for me to believe I’ve just about figured out how to clone it, so here’s my recipe (the previously-linked post has more info in the original post and comments about how I arrived here):

I’m giving percentages and IBUs instead of weights so this can be scaled to any size you want.


  • Rahr Pale Ale (85%)
  • British Crystal 60 (15%)
  • Hops: Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, Spalt
  • Yeast: White Labs WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast
  • Water: Residual Alkalinity 61, 1.5 Chloride/Sulfate Ratio, 100+ ppm Chloride, 50+ ppm Calcium

Target Profile

  • Original Gravity: 1.053 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.014 SG
  • Color: 13.2 SRM
  • Bitterness: 25 IBUs
  • Alcohol by Volume (Est): 5.08%
  • Carbonation: 1.8-2.0 Volumes


  • Mash @ 154°F for 60 minutes
  • Boil for 90 minutes
  • Late Hop with equal parts of all varieties @ 10-15 minutes to achieve IBU of ~25
  • Dry Hop with equal parts of all varieties for 3 days (~1.5oz total for 5 gallons)
  • Ferment at 60°F and allow to rise to 68°F after primary fermentation is complete
  • Carbonate to 1.8-2.0 volumes using dried malt extract (ideally, krausen, but DME is fine)
  • Age for 4-6 weeks @ 60°F
  • Drink @ 50°F-55°F

I’m pretty confident that you’ll end up with a beer very close to Boston Ale if you use these methods. As I mentioned, I did attempt to create an homage to Boston Ale before, and it was close enough that the aforementioned recipe should be very similar to a clone of Samuel Adams Boston Ale. Cheers!

Mad Alchemist New England Stock Ale

2010 March 18
by Mad Alchemist

Note: I’ve written a new post entitled Samuel Adams Boston Ale Clone if you’re looking for a Boston Ale recipe. The process of figuring out the clone can still be seen below.

I decided I’d go for a simple recipe for my brew session this weekend. So, I figured it was time to try to pay homage to Samuel Adams Boston Ale, which is a delicious Stock Ale. The lovely thing about trying to clone a Sam Adams recipe is that they provide you with a lot of useful information to start with.

From the website, we know:

Color: Red to Amber
Original Gravity: 13 Plato (1.053 SG)
Alcohol: 5.1% ABV / 4.0% ABW
Malt: Two Row Pale, Caramel 60
Hops: Spalt Spalter, East Kent Goldings, Fuggles
Yeast Strain: “Top-fermenting ale yeast” (theirs is proprietary)

“Keeping with the Stock Ale style, Samuel Adams® Boston Ale is fermented at cooler almost lager like temperatures and conditioned much longer than most ales. It also is Krausened and dry hopped.”

It also has fruit and ester notes with a smooth, round finish.

Okay, time to start paying homage (I’m saying “homage” because I don’t know if it’s a clone just yet)!

We know they krausen (add freshly-fermenting wort to carbonate) and dry hop. We’re going to dry hop this sucker for a week, starting after a week of fermentation (at least a day after primary is complete). This will probably produce more hop flavor and aroma than Boston Ale (which I’d think is more like 3 days), but I want that flavor myself, and this is an “homage.” As for adding freshly-fermenting (or unfermented) wort to carbonate, I don’t want to brew a mini-batch of beer to do it, so I’m using corn sugar or DME.

As for the yeast, we know they ferment at “almost lager like temperatures.” What this means to me is that they ferment around 60 °F using an ale yeast that can handle it, but they probably let the temperature rise to get some additional ester production. So, we’re looking for a yeast strain that has a fruity character and can cover a wide range of temperatures, starting around 60 °F. To me, that means Wyeast American Ale II, which has an impressive range of 60-72 °F and the character we want (I started the search with White Labs East Coast Ale Yeast, but it can’t handle the low temperatures).

On to the malt. To me, it tastes very English on the malt end. So, I’ve chosen Maris Otter and a British Crystal 60. Knowing that I don’t want to go over about 15% on the crystal malt and our target gravity, the proportion was rather quick to determine, especially because Boston Ale looks to be in the 12-16 SRM range. If you want to go darker (15 SRM instead of 12.9 SRM), you could remove 0.5 lb of the base malt and add 0.5 lb of crystal, which brings the crystal malt up to 20% of the grist.

Finally, the water profile. This beer is somewhat malty and has a smooth, round finish, so I’m going for at least 100ppm of chloride and a ratio of around 1.5 chloride/sulfate. Given the color (12.6 SRM), a Residual Alkalinity of ~61 is appropriate. If you decide to go darker (14.7 SRM), you’ll want to hit an RA of ~86.

Without further ado, I give you Mad Alchemist New England Stock Ale (5 gallon all-grain recipe):


  • Maris Otter (8.5 lbs)
  • British Crystal 60 (1.5 lbs)
  • Hops: 1 oz Fuggles, 1 oz East Kent Goldings, 1 oz Spalt
  • Yeast: American Ale II (Wyeast Labs #1272), 2000 ml starter
  • Water: Residual Alkalinity 61, 1.5 Chloride/Sulfate Ratio, 100+ ppm Chloride, 50+ ppm Calcium
  • Alternate (Darker) Prep: 8 lbs Maris Otter, 2 lbs Crystal 60 yields 14.7 SRM instead of 12.6. You might want to adjust your RA to 86 instead of 61 if you do this, but it’s fine if you don’t.

Target Profile

  • Original Gravity: 1.053 SG
  • Final Gravity: 1.013 SG
  • Color: 12.6 SRM
  • Bitterness: 20 IBU
  • Alcohol by Volume (Est): 5.19%
  • Carbonation: 2.3-2.4 volumes

I’m going to do a single step mash at 154 °F for medium body in the beer. I will boil the wort for 90 minutes. The first 0.25 oz of each variety of hops will be added with 45 minutes left in the boil. 0.5 oz of each variety of hops will be added with 10 minutes left in the boil. 0.25 oz of each variety of hops will be added to secondary after one week of fermentation, and will be allowed to dry hop for one week.

When I add the wort to the fermentor, it will be at 60 °F. I’ll allow it to rise naturally to 68 °F. After fermentation is complete, I’ll add 4 oz corn sugar when bottling to achieve carbonation of ~2.35 volumes at 68 °F. I’m going to let this ale age for at least a month before drinking, and more likely two months. I would age it at cooler temperatures (55-60° F) if I had the ability to do so.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Craft Brew Action Request

2010 March 15
by Mad Alchemist

The brewing community is asking for our support for America’s small brewers by making a simple request to your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor H.R. 4278. This bill seeks to reduce beer excise tax for small breweries, cutting costs and creating jobs. For those of us who are beer nerds, it also means more variety in beer! I’m proud to say my congressman, James McGovern, is already a sponsor. Find out the details on the Brewer’s Associations H.R. 4278 Action Request.

The Wonders of Fermentation

2010 March 13
by Mad Alchemist

As you might have seen from my previous post, I thought I’d botched my entire last batch of beer. Well, I decided to pull it out of the fermentor after a week and anticipated throwing it out. Instead, I unexpectedly had a two-case bottling session.

Thank you, Belgian Schelde yeast. If you create an appropriate starter (I did) and aerate your wort properly (Also, check–I use an aquarium pump), you’ll get a nice vigorous fermentation. A wort that tasted quite bad (overly bitter, cloudy, chalky, low gravity) turned into a very tasty Belgian Pale. That, my friends, exemplifies the wonders of yeast.